On-Line Banking: Ask Before You Choose

Why wouldn’t you choose to have online banking? It’s convenient, easy, and saves paper. It’s green, it’s clean, it can get you in a lot of trouble. I won’t do it again. I’m going back to bulky old paper. Here’s why–if you try to leave your bank, they are under no obligation to let you have access to your files. Not the checks you don’t get back anymore, not the automatic deposits. Nothing. You leave the bank, you

Image: ebanking365.com

Image: ebanking365.com

have no paper trail.

The instant you terminate your account, you can’t have images of your checks, you won’t have access to what bills you’ve paid, you won’t have access to anything. Because you don’t bank there anymore. And this isn’t some backwater bank I’m talking about. This is a huge, TARP-taking, world-wide conglomerate.

For the last three months whenever I’ve walked into my branch, I’ve had to wait in a long line. One teller is busy working, others are standing around, chatting with each other. Sure, they could be talking about bank business, but it must be very funny bank business, because they are laughing a lot.

Today, I went in, mid-afternoon, and none of the tellers were working. I was directed to the back of the bank, where my business shares attention with the drive-up.  I asked the teller if she had time for a question, and she said, “Not really, but go ahead.” I said I could wait till I came in next time.

“Ask” she said. It was a crisp command.
“When I leave the bank, how to I retain access to my online account?” I said.
“Are you moving?” she asked.
“No. I’m just moving my money,” I said,
“Well, why?”
“Because I get poor customer service.”
Her face pinched. “You are wrong. That’s just not true!” she said.
“Like this.” I said.
“I help you all the time, and I give you great service,” she said, now hissing.

“You are always polite, but you aren’t here every time I come in. And although I have mentioned that the ATM won’t take deposits that are stamped, I still have to deposit business receipts by coming into the bank. And I have to wait in a long line. I see tellers chatting with each other, when they could open another window,” I said.

“Mary [not her real name], our bank manager, runs a tight ship. That never happens. You are seeing bank vice presidents doing bank business.” She said.

I became aware that she was calling me a liar. Saying that I got great service and didn’t know it. That when I saw four people hanging out, laughing, two of whom I recognized as tellers, I was not seeing that they were working. I was not going to continue down this road.

“If I do leave the bank, how do I retain access to my online banking records?”

“You don’t. That is our information if you leave.”

“No, it’s my information, just under your control.”

She slammed my cash on the counter and said, “I have other customers. If you want to speak to a counter person, you can sit in the lobby and wait.” I’d done that before, for 20 minutes while a bank person with an office finished her lunch.

I’m concerned over this. When I opened my account, I actually never asked what happens when I leave. I hadn’t thought of leaving. I’m going to get the documents that are mine, even if I have to download every page from my computer. I’m not staying with that bank. They keep upping the bar for “free checking.” First I had to have one of their credit cards, now they are pushing a debit card that you must use five times a month. Pretty soon I’ll have to buy one of the houses in their bankrupt inventory to retain my free business checking.

I am not sure how this works, and I can’t afford a lawyer to fight this, but for those of you who don’t know or didn’t ask, it might be wise to check with your bank. While the demands they make on you are still simple.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer and trainer who is astonished at the temerity of corporations in this economy.  (c) 2009 All rights reserved.